Bring back Terry Bell
The Congress of South African Trade Unions condemns the suspension of Terry Bell's ‘Inside Labour' column, which has been appearing every Friday for many years in Business Report, as an insert into the Pretoria News, Johannesburg Star, KZN Mercury and Cape Times, newspapers owned by Independent Newspapers and their new owner, Sekunjalo.
The column has been suspended indefinitely by the new management. Although Terry had been commissioned to submit the first of the year's columns for last Friday, the editor told him that "the Inside Labour column is on hold until further notice. So I do not expect any column from you until I advise you otherwise".
Although COSATU did not agree with everything Terry Bell wrote, and he did not always agree with COSATU, he was by far the best labour reporter and analyst in the South African media, mixing a meticulous commitment to telling the truth about working-class life, and exposing lies and hypocrisy, with a passionate concern for the problems facing working people, in South Africa and around the world.
An Editor's Note in the Friday edition tries to explain that "in view of a strategic overhaul of Business Report, which forms part of a wider strategic repositioning of Independent Newspapers, I have begun a review of all the material that Business Report acquires from contributors, including Terry.
"As part of this review, Terry's column has been suspended pending finalisation of Business Report's strategic plan. Business Report has communicated to Terry that it remains committed to enlist his expertise if and when the need arises."
In an article in the Cape Argus, Independent Newspaper's executive editor, Karima Brown - and the opinion and analysis editor and former COSATU spokesperson, Vukani Mde - seek to justify the proposals by Sekunjalo boss, Dr Iqbal Survé, to make "changes to management, staff, the structure of the business, its growth strategies and targets, and even its editorial orientation".
They correctly say that "a small but very privileged and racially definable minority still controls the tools of public discourse, including the bulk of private commercial media and virtually all the mainstream newspaper groups. The private commercial media represents this minority's economic and political interests, and presents their world view as the unchallengeable norm, promoting their narrative of South Africa as the dominant, indeed the sole, narrative."
COSATU agrees wholeheartedly with this, and with their condemnation of the backlash against this restructuring plan from the minority-controlled mainstream media, which "has been ferocious and tinged with racism". We full agree with their commitment to the transformation of the media, so that it better reflects the lives and views of the majority of the people.
We shall look forward eagerly to see how this transformation of the Independent newspapers takes shape and their new approach to the way issues are reported and discussed.
But how on earth will this process be assisted by the suspension of Terry Bell, one of the most committed advocates of the transformation of the media and indeed society as a whole. No-one has spoken our more consistently and courageously against "small but very privileged and racially definable minority" who dominate our economy, and has campaigned more passionately in support of the workers and the poor?
He ought to be seen as one of the main driving forces behind the drive for transformation, and his suspension therefore raises questions about Survé's seriousness about this pledge. Bring back Terry Bell now!
Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, January 28 2014
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